Achieving ‘Flow‘ means a lot to me. And I can admit that my mono-tasking, hyper focus on it’s pursuit, drives me to distraction at times.
I can’t help it. At nearly every turn I am aware of my movement in space, my thoughts in my mind, the distances and connections between tasks- as I move around my class, as type on my keyboard, as I colour or draw or write or talk or walk. Sometimes, I can even focus myself into distraction… weird I know. And all of these elements tend to track subconsciously, but when I bring them to attention I instinctively want to make their edges smoother, the transition between them seamless, the barriers invisible.
This frame of mind is not helped by the fact that I am a teacher … and a parent … to be completely honest.
I have had ridiculous debates with my 8 and 6-year-olds regarding efficient workflow. I ask them why they did not bring their dishes to the sink [as they walked past me mid-dishwashing], or why did they leave their clothes on the floor [instead of in the hamper], or even why they did not replace the toilet paper [before they sat down and called me up to get the roll that was sitting right on the counter across from them]. Sigh. I know that they do not have answers, and I know they are learning, but something in me does not cave to these thoughts. Something in me wants them to ‘flow’ too.
At the heart of my feng shui mindset lives the belief that when people know better, they can act better. And I hope, feel better too.
I also think that taking small steps to tweak little moments can bring about new thinking. As for my kids, they are slowly coming to their own rescue with the toilet paper. Most times they just leave spare rolls on the top of the tank- within easy reach. And, this is what I am talking about; a simple solution that works. And it works for everyone. And it removes barriers in their lives. My daughter told me once that I sounded like Kylo Ren trying to force-push-hypnotize them when we talked about differentiated solutions. I guess that is somewhat of a compliment and a great call-out because I was trying to get in their heads. The core message that I was vibing at them is that I value working more solutions not fewer. And if I have to drone on and use the dark side to do it, I will. The only line I draw in their blind pursuit of solutions is if it is dangerous.
I have noticed that this is a pensive process. Also, frustrating, confusing, and slow. But, it is the necessary front-ended grind work to make it to Flow state.
Now I get the fact that it is not my sole domain to make the world click with IKEA efficiency, but I have met enough people that simply did not consider, never knew, or thought it was possible to exist in this type of headspace. And the majority of these teachable moments occur in my ‘teacher-me’ life. I have sat at round-table discussions on the topic of student success and achievement, where the system gave the dogmatic impression that it knew what was best for the child and family in question. Often the language is needlessly and overly codified in edu-jargon and the conversation is time bound. Quick decisions, can create good feelings and outcomes. I prefer deliberate decisions that build understanding and neutral emotionality.
The reality is that, often, well-considered solutions can be stale. This applies in particular when the pitch has been prefabricated and assembled away from the meeting, without all member input. The humans in the room owe each other the time and focus on achieving a solution that has both truth and hope within it. So, it is critical that all parties bring their best assortment of ideas and all parties take their time. What’s possible in education is not set. Despite the hard truth of budgets, and expectations, and staffing, and engagement and a whole lot of other perceptual barriers, genuinely creative options for students’ success do exist.
What if..? What else..? And what now..? These three questions have become my dark arts defense against the narrow, the rushed, and the vague.
Staying in the moment, long enough to reveal other possibilities, can be a little ‘white knuck-ly’ especially when everyone else starts posturing from an ‘As-If’ viewpoint. But I assure you, really cool things happen in that space just beyond the playbook, in the ambiguous after-moment of what if, what else, and what now?
- Meet with either the Student Success Lead and/or the Subject Head of Guidance to hear their stories of positive, creative student based solution making. Be intentional and respectful in your curiosity this will honour their efforts behind the scenes.
- Bring these findings to your next department meeting and share the ‘WIn-Win’ frame of mind. By building your team tools on successful approaches you and your team can get to helping students faster.
- Post out to your actual or digital PLN, share your scenarios and challenges. Ask directly for resources, references, or even an opportunity to have direct conversation face to face. A broad support base will undoubtedly help your students succeed.
Flow means a lot to me, and I am growing more and more bound to it every day. As an educator in a large school board, events occur all the time that challenge my perception of my job, and what is assumed of me. This, for the most part, is a good thing; I do crave change. And when things change, I like to ask a lot of questions. Heck, when things don’t change or haven’t changed, I get in on that too. With more questions than answers, it can often look like I disbelieve much. But if I am not asking questions, then I am not learning. And if I am not learning, then what I am modeling for my students?
Sometimes my flow drive puts me at odds with conventional practices. I am not the type to be dissuaded by hitting a dead end in my inquiry, and I definitely do not shy away from having hard conversations. I am patient and strategic and inexhaustibly curious. Also, I know that the right question posed to the right person will reveal the loot bag I am looking for. And, notwithstanding my stubborn stance, the system could never know that it is massive and unaware and that I constantly feel its gravity on me; unless I squeak a bit.
I am okay with this. I am more than okay; I think that I am flourishing. In my current program, I benefit from the optimal balance of board support structures and individual agency and that is a real sweet spot for my brain, my creativity, and my pedagogy. The students that I am privileged to teach are a part of a program that flourishes because my colleague and I ask critical questions and seek new creative answers. We design unique and individualized opportunities for learning; both curricular and of self; making sure that when our program needs something, we ask. And it seems like we are always asking. Funny thing about asking a valid question, how the question is answered can be more revealing than the response itself.
I read a story, from a keynote, given by the late Joe Bower. In the story, two young goldfish swim under a senior goldfish, and the older goldfish asks the youngsters, ‘How’s the water down there boys?’ The fish swim on, several minutes later, one of the young fish asks his buddy, ‘What’s water?’ Moments later the fish pass each other. The old fish asks, again. ‘How’s the water down there boys?’ This story not only highlights the irony of ignorance but also that the fishbowl, the invisible yet absolute barrier, wins.
If I place myself in the goldfish story almost every element has a connection that can be found in my teaching life. And, in my defense, my pursuit of what’s best for my students entails rocking the fishbowl metaphor a bit. Each time the bowl shifts, not only do I get a priceless view of life outside, but I also get a small chance to jump from the bowl. In certainty, this strategy will continue to create tensions in my day since most of my current questions focus attention on the fishbowl itself. And to be honest, the fishbowl is a new discovery to some. Teaching is not my first career, my work instincts were honed primarily in kitchens and dining rooms. My views inevitably have some exotic shape and flavour initially; not radical, but definitely sourced outside-the-bowl.
For now, I am starting a conversation with the system; a debate about numbers that are rooted in the deepest elements of our education system. Equipped with the ‘What ifs..?’ that many of my students ask I go to a table with many different constituents and I try to understand the history of board decisions out of context. And like the fish in the bowl, it will take some effort to get to a new point of view. Making connections with and between the offerings of the system and the reality of my students is at the heart of my pedagogy; connections that I cannot always make as clear as I want to, but I am on the verge of mudskipping.